a friend’s nudge to speak out

Sarah, a dear friend, is one of the brightest, most passionate people I know. A child of a Jewish and Christian household, over the years, I’ve been privileged to watch her grow up into a wonderful person and woman who embraces, truly embodies both traditions in authentic ways.

Sarah has been deeply dismayed and has sounded the alarm over the rise of renewed anti-Semitism, especially in Europe (although I do not believe there is any place where it does not exist). By anti-Semitism, I do not mean criticism of the politics and policies of the nation of Israel. Any actions by any peoples at any time, when viewed through a clear lens of balanced, concrete analysis, can be subject to realistic assessment and reasonable critique. What I, in the name of the values of love and justice that I uphold, must (and rarely do I employ what I consider the heavily morally freighted words, “must”, “ought” or “should”, but here I must) repudiate racism of any kind and, in this case, especially that which lies at the heart of anti-Semitism that condemns the Jewish peoples for being Jewish.

Reflecting on the roots of my visceral renunciation of anti-Semitism, I recall when and where the seeds first were planted.

During my New York days nearly forty yeas ago as a student at The General Theological Seminary, I was a member of a group known as the Judaizers (derived from the Greek, ’ioudaizein, meaning, “to live like Jews”). We met once a month as the guests of a group of students of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Our gatherings, meant to foster a mutual respect for our faith traditions and for one another as persons, involved equal parts of historical and theological study and friendly fellowship. The latter included some usually good-natured joshing.

I remember the first game between our seminary basketball teams. One of the Jewish students, looking at the lettering on my basketball jersey, asked me, rather pointedly I thought, “What does G.T.S. stand for?” I replied, somewhat slyly, “God the Son.”

On another occasion the General students made a presentation, sharing our understanding that the Christian pre-Easter season of Lent borrowed heavily from the Jewish concept of repentance as expressed in the annual Rosh Ha-Shanah-Yom Kippur cycle. One of the Jewish students, poking fun at us while at the same time making an admittedly, well taken point about how casually Christians, in general, practice repentance as compared to the customary Jewish earnestness, said, “We may have lent it to you, but you haven’t done much with it!”

On a more serious note, I think of the gathering when we explored at depth and in detail the Jewish roots of Christianity. One of the speakers, my systematic theology professor, spoke with rapture about the germination and growth of the Christian Church in and out of a fertile Hebraic soil. Another lecturer, a rabbi, opened his responsive remarks with, at least for me, a startling and utterly unexpected word: “All Christians are adopted Jews.”

Ever since that moment, this striking word, suggesting, for me, an undeniable historical and spiritual indebtedness of Christians to Jews, has been embedded in my working consciousness. As a Christian, this word has informed my appreciation for and enlightened my approach to my Jewish brothers and sisters. This word has been the basis for my long held understanding that any Christian anti-Semitism, at the very least, is grammatically and ideologically oxymoronic and, at worst, is a most egregious example of historical amnesia, moral myopia, and spiritual dementia.

Thanks, Sarah, for the nudge to speak out.

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2 thoughts on “a friend’s nudge to speak out

  1. Paul,

    And speak out you did!!! Thank you for your usual eloquence!!! I loved your sharing the experience of the Judaizers group you were in. What a magnificent idea and how beneficial it seems to have been for all who participated!! We NEED more of those types of groups today. While I’m sure some of these types of groups do exist and I’m just ignorant of them, but similar to what your friend pointed out years ago “you haven’t done much with it”….. I’d say “we haven’t done much” in terms of progress. Specifically, We haven’t come anywhere near close enough to eliminating anti-Semitism, as we are obviously too focused on our “spiritual dementia”, and not nearly focused enough on being inclusive of ALL. Thank you for giving us a spiritual wake-up call.

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  2. Loretta, I – and, of course, I’m not the first to observe and say this – believe that the cyclical nature of human history (manifested, I think, in how swiftly news stories move from the front page of our consciousness to the back end sections of the “news of the day”) calls us always to look for things that are missing (whether they be groups that convene to bridge differences or structured conversations that pull together folk across the spectrum of opinion on any given, particularly controversial subject), and, when missing, to restore them in practice or to put them back in place. I also think that anything that summons us to inclusion is probably in itself a sign that we (humans) have retreated to our corners and conclaves of our comfortable and comforting similarities. Thanks always for your kind words.

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